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Student lends voice to debate over NCLB

Huzzah huzzah.
Now when will the teachers follow suit?

By Vincent Todaro

EAST BRUNSWICK - When Churchill Junior High School student Miruna Barnoschi visited Congress recently, it wasn't for a class field trip or tourist outing.

Barnoschi was there to do some lobbying.

Barnoschi and 14 other teens from New Jersey visited lawmakers May 23 to lobby for changes to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. She went to Washington as a guest of STEP (Students Talking about Education Policy), an effort organized and run by the Institute for Domestic and International Affairs (IDIA).

The students demonstrated knowledge of the issue and personal opinions when speaking to House members, including her area's own congressional representative, Rush Holt (D-12).

Barnoschi told them how the program's funding mechanism is inefficient and does not work to accomplish the act's stated objectives.

"There was less funding for students who fail. There should be more funding for the districts that fail," she told the Sentinel.

She said the act itself is ambiguously worded and that the states should have more control over what is implemented. States have individual needs that cannot be met through a cookie-cutter approach.

In addition, she feels the idea of giving more money to schools already performing well is unfair and unnecessary.

According to press material from IDIA, the objective of the STEP program is to engage students, an integral constituency that generally goes unheard, in dialogue that affects their education.

Paul Kuehn, program director for IDIA, said his organization feels that students are capable of much more than learning in the classroom - that they should be part of the decision-making process on their own educational opportunities.

Kuehn said STEP was open to all New Jersey students who took part in the Rutgers Model Congress this spring. The students, including three from Highland Park and Franklin, were chosen from a group who wrote their legislators about No Child Left Behind.

"It was basically the best 15, the ones who really applied," Kuehn said.

"By speaking directly with their congressmen, these students made clear that they care about their own educational opportunities," said Michael Hinchliffe, IDIA's executive director, in the press release. "They did not travel to Washington to visit the monuments or see the Capitol from across the mall. They came to Washington to tell their federal representatives what they expect from their educations, and to offer ideas on how to improve on the No Child Left Behind Act."

Barnoschi said she used to think there were two types of people: politicians who knew the system and outsiders who knew very little. The trip taught her, though, that "ordinary people" can go to Washington and express their opinions.

"I do intend on doing more and might run this program in my school," she said. "I felt prepared and adequately able to discuss issues with the senators and Mr. Holt."

— Vincent Todaro


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